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Cook County Board approves bill making it easier to fire medical examiner

Thursday, March 01, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County commissioners Thursday abolished the medical examiner’s open-ended term of office and laid out exactly how the morgue chief could be fired.

The moves come after a scandal in which bodies have piled up and created health problems at the morgue and after leaders, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, pointed the finger at management problems there and specifically at Chief Medical Examiner Nancy Jones.

At a meeting Thursday, the board approved a five-year term limit for the chief medical examiner and approved procedures for firing the medical examiner, which would be initiated under the request of the board president and approved by a majority of the county board.

A firing could come “upon a claim of negligence, malfeasance, misfeasance, immoral, illegal or unethical conduct or failure to properly execute the duties of such position.” Currently, the president could only recommend firing a sitting medical examiner for “cause.”

For weeks Commissioner John Fritchey has repeatedly said the measure has nothing to do with Jones’ leadership but rather the issues that rose to the surface after news reports from the Sun-Times and other outlets about overcrowding at the morgue and bodily fluids covering the floor of the cooler — creating a health hazard.

“This ordinance is not directed at any specific person,” Fritchey said again during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a fellow Democrat, said Fritchey “found a flaw in the existing ordinance because it creates a life appointment for the medical examiner” and said no county official should have a life term in office.

In January, Preckwinkle told reporters Jones — and her open-ended term of office — were a roadblock to cleaning up the office.

“My ability to deal with it is limited by the fact that the person who is in charge of it has a term of office as opposed to serving at my pleasure,” she said then.

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